Parents at far-left Cal-Berkeley – where students pushed ‘defund the police’ and the city cut $9.2million from cop budget – are forced to spend $40K to hire private security to protect students near campus

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Safe Bears, a coalition of parents, raised the funds for a two-week pilot program with unarmed guards watching over Cal-Berkley students
  • The decision followed skyrocketing crime rates in 2022, amid calls from the student body to cut funding from campus police

Parents of Cal-Berkeley students raised $40,000 to foot the cost of private security near the liberal university following a campus and citywide push to defund the police.

Safe Bears, a nonprofit comprised mostly of concerned parents, raised funds for a two-and-a-half-week pilot program that saw security guards in fluorescent jackets milling about campus.

The unarmed officials surveilled several blocks around the university from March 6 through March 23, operating separately from Cal-Berkeley’s campus police department.

The program has come amid a recent spike in crime in the far-left city that saw a massive push to reduce police presence during the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Speaking to NBC Bay Area, Sagar Jethani, the president of Safe Bears and father of two students, said the program had received ‘positive feedback.’ He and other members of the organization hope to see more private security hired in the future. 

‘It went really well, we brought in a total of six safety ambassadors, some were deployed on foot, some on bicycles,’ Jethani explained.

Parents of Cal-Berkeley students raised $40,000 to fund a two-week private security pilot program after a spike of crime near the liberal campus

The unarmed guards patrolled a stretch of blocks surrounding the university between March 6 and March 23

The unarmed guards patrolled a stretch of blocks surrounding the university between March 6 and March 23

The decision came after a years-long push by the student body to defund campus and city police

The decision came after a years-long push by the student body to defund campus and city police

‘They provided escorts to students who need them, security escorts, they provided directions, they were also just a very visible deterrent to crime.’

Cal-Berkeley saw a spike in crime between 2021 and 2022. Most notably, the number of aggravated assaults jumped from 54 to 63.

Parents asserted that university police were understaffed and overwhelmed by the rising violence.

Their worries came to a head in 2022, when, following an altercation one block away from campus, a student was shot and killed.

Police said the shooting stemmed from an earlier fight. Three men aged 22, 24 and 28 were injured, while 29-year-old Isamaeli Mataafam died.

Mataafam was a PhD student at the Pacific School of Religion at the time of his death.

According to Jethani, the Safe Bears program was modeled after private security Cal-Berkeley hired after the shooting. Private security vendor Streetplus was chosen for the job due to their existing relationship with the city.

Last month, another shooting erupted on campus when Virgil Hampton, 59, allegedly discharged his gun following a ‘a physical altercation’ with a student, the University of California Police Department said.

The man ordered students to open their backpacks and give him a charger. When a fight broke out, he retrieved a handgun and began firing into the air.

While the blast only shattered a window, it left the community shaken.

Sagar Jethani, the president of Safe Bears, a nonprofit comprised mostly of parents, said the pilot program had received 'positive feedback'

Sagar Jethani, the president of Safe Bears, a nonprofit comprised mostly of parents, said the pilot program had received ‘positive feedback’

Student organizations including the Black Student Union have argued that Cal-Berkeley 'plays an active role in this abusive system' by partnering with city police and funding campus police

Student organizations including the Black Student Union have argued that Cal-Berkeley ‘plays an active role in this abusive system’ by partnering with city police and funding campus police

Parents, meanwhile, have insisted that campus police are overwhelmed by rising rates of violent crime

Parents, meanwhile, have insisted that campus police are overwhelmed by rising rates of violent crime

The increased security presence also follows a years-long push to defund the police.

Cal-Berkeley has stood as stronghold of liberal thought in the Bay Area for decades, with the Princeton Review characterizing the student body as generally ‘politically liberal, nonreligious, and pretty independent.’ 2018.

Calls to cut funding from university police stemmed from two separate incidents in 2019, beginning when campus police responded to a report of two people on campus, with one carrying a stun gun.

According to an advisory from the school’s Black Student Union, two Cal-Berkeley freshmen were walking with a University of San Francisco student when officers approached and asked if they had a weapon.

The University of San Francisco student admitted to carrying one for self-defense before one of the Cal students was ‘thrown to the ground, arrested and brought to UCPD for interrogation.’

The University of San Francisco student was also arrested. Both students were cited and released, but neither student was read their rights during their arrests, the union claimed.

In a subsequent June 2019 incident, campus police detained two black boys -children of Cal-Berkeley students – after they called police to report a stranger taking photos of them.

In a demand letter sent to institution, a coalition of student groups alleged that police also ‘used excessive force on the boys’ as they put them in the back of a police car.

Janet Gilmore, a spokeswoman for the school, later admitted that there was ‘no further need for police action’ at the time, despite an 11-year-old boy being handcuffed.

‘By continuing to partner with Berkeley PD and fund UCPD, UC Berkeley plays an active role in this abusive system,’ the letter read.

A protester near Berkeley flees as police officers try to disperse a crowd comprised largely of student demonstrators during a protest against police violence in the US

A protester near Berkeley flees as police officers try to disperse a crowd comprised largely of student demonstrators during a protest against police violence in the US 

The charge to defund the police on campus mirrored similar calls in the City of Berkeley, with the City Council voting in 2020 to cut $9.2 million from the police department's budget

The charge to defund the police on campus mirrored similar calls in the City of Berkeley, with the City Council voting in 2020 to cut $9.2 million from the police department’s budget

In May 2022, the City Council opted to 'refund the police,' shelling out $5.3 million for public safety programs and restoring 30 roles within the department

In May 2022, the City Council opted to ‘refund the police,’ shelling out $5.3 million for public safety programs and restoring 30 roles within the department

The charge to defund the police occurred against a backdrop of similar calls in the city at large.

In 2020, during the height of the BLM movement and reaction to the George Floyd case, the Berkeley City Council voted to slash the police budget by $9.2 million, which represented 12 percent of the department’s annual operating budget. Thirty positions in the police department were frozen. 

At the time, city departments were required to take cost-saving measures due to pandemic deficits.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the department would have claimed 50 percent of the city’s discretionary fund over the next five years if such action had not been taken.

In May 2022, the City Council opted to ‘refund the police’ after arriving at a compromise that saw $5.3 million awarded to public safety programs.

Several council members also pushed for the restoration of the 30 frozen positions.

Arreguín, who had previously been a major advocate for cutting funding, deemed the vote an ‘important milestone.’

The decision came amid skyrocketing crime rates.

During a March 2023 meeting, Interim Police Chief Jen Louis shared that the overall total number of violent and property crimes in 2022 was ‘the highest in the past 10 years.’

‘Berkeley continues to have one of the highest property crime rates in our region,’ she said at the time.

Assault and battery had risen 1 percent year to date, with 148 reports so far. Reports of stolen vehicles saw the biggest leap, rising 12 percent with 293 reports. Meanwhile, thefts, sexual assault and burglary were all down.

City leaders have asserted most of the department’s time is consumed by low-level calls, leading to them focusing less on violent crime. One suggestion has been moving traffic enforcement away from cops, which may also reduce less racial disparities in policing.

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